She Blinded Me With Rocket Science

Tuesday, the trio of us opted to attend some hands-on classes at the pyrotechnics convention. We first attended a seminar on how to make your own pastes - one using cottage cheese and the other short grained rice. It may sound boring to you, but I assure you, it was fascinating. What did we do with the paste, you ask? Why we learned to roll cardboard tubes for use in making fireworks! I couldn't resist treating mine like a fine cigar. It allowed me to presence my beloved granddaddy, who had a White Owl cigar lodged in the corner of his mouth a good deal of the time I knew him.
We next attended a workshop on making black powder rockets and it couldn't have been more fun or educational. Kurt, Marty and I all learned to make a fuel core rocket using a cardboard tube, kitty litter, gunpowder and hammer blows. The making of a black powder rocket (by hand, at least) requires lots and lots of tamping/hammering. The gunpowder has to be packed in the tube extremely tightly and in a specific shape in order to provide the physics necessary to lift it high in the air before it bursts. A special set of tamping tools and a hammer are used to pack small increments of powder in the tube around a tapered spindle. It takes a good bit of muscle and a fair amount of time to fill one up by hand. You also get pretty damn dirty since gunpowder is one of those things that sticks to everything.
After we each completed our rocket and decorated it with an appropriate moniker for later identification, we dropped them off at the shooting range to be stored in the magazine (firesafe storage unit) until we were ready to shoot them off later that evening.
Later Monday evening, we returned to the Cam-Plex to shoot off our rockets and as we pulled into the parking area, the attendant told us, "Hurry! They're about to send up the 10 foot girandola!" We raced to the parking lot, leapt out of the car and headed hurriedly toward the viewing stands. When we were almost there, we saw a giant helix-shaped column of glittering sparks rise high into the sky above our heads. We were almost to the stands, so we could see it pretty well, even as it came down, down, down - right into the middle of the viewing area not 30 feet in front of us! It was absolutely spectacular! That's a picture of the poor thing being harassed by security personnel at left. If you're familiar with those little flying sauce shaped fireworks that spin and shoot sparks and zoom off into the air from the ground, that's a girandola. Now imagine one that's 10 feet in diameter! Boy howdy did I ever love seeing that thing go. It was gorgeous beyond belief. After the girandola, we sat and watched a number of the other competition shells and were wowed by each and every one. The competitors in a number of different categories hand make these specialty devices, and the results are generally more spectacular than anything you'll see at an ordinary pyrotechnics display. I took some more pictures, a slight improvement over Sunday's batch. I think I've decided to quit trying to take good professional images of fireworks and focus instead on creating beautiful abstracts. They're my favorite anyway and since I'm not currently willing to invest all the time and energy into getting good at the technical skills, I'll instead just play with what I'm comfortable with and enjoy most. Here's a few from Tuesday night that I liked:

After we watched the competition shells, we walked over to the rocket firing range and retrieved our pyro progeny. I had as much fun if not more just being on the firing line, sharing other people's excitement about shooting their rockets, watching delight in shoot their rockets and learning things. Kurt Medlin, who is by far my favorite teacher from the two conferences I've attended, so far stood nearby and was wonderful about explaining the different kinds of rockets we were seeing and how they worked. There were two kinds I particularly liked: the Cadeusus that used two opposing rockets mounted on a single stick to make a beautiful helix shaped tail of sparks and another one called a lampere, which is a rocket that carries a payload of about 20 ounces of liquid fuel, producing a fireball in the sky when it breaks. Kurt, Marty and I all three shot our rockets with great success. The lift was perfect, the break flawless. Mine had silver glitter (the pyro kind) and pink stars (the glowing colored bits). Wahooooooo!!!

The best thing about being on the line, though, is proximity. Being right under those big fireworks when they're lit is such a rush. The fire, the noise, the color. Once in a while, you get lucky and a pyro device breaks either in the tube it's shot out of or just above it, and you're not very far from ground zero for the burst. There were several times while standing on the line Tuesday night that I heard the charge go and then the next thing I knew, glowing sparks had enveloped me and were racing past me. While certainly it's very dangerous (although we wear safety glasses, hard hats and protective clothing), it is also beyond gorgeous. For me, it is a peak experience and I am thrilled every time it happens.

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